In 2013, photographer and founder of Friends Without A Border, Kenro Izu, invited me to be one of six photographers whose photographs would eventually be published in a book about Lao the proceeds from which would directly benefit The Lao Friends Hospital for Children in Luang Prabang. The following is the text which accompanied my photographs.
"I traveled to Lao in 2014 and 2015 with excited anticipation of experiencing and photographing a country I had never been to before.
The first year, I flew into Vientiane and took a car on the winding, wet road to Vang Vieng before settling into picturesque Luang Prabang. The Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC) was still being built, while its future staff were being trained at off campus classrooms. When I returned the following year, it was open and I was given a tour to see the good and important work that the international team of doctors, nurses, and staff were providing for the children of Lao and their families.
Later, I visited a few small villages, traveling in the back of a truck or by motorbike, and encountered many inquisitive, rambunctious youngsters who showed signs of being malnourished and chronically ill. Because of the LFHC, these vulnerable children can now receive checkups and health care in their rural homes by outreach professionals who can also better educate the parents about nutrition and hygiene.
Many of the people I photographed grew up in difficult conditions such as these, often traveling long distances to finally move to Luang Prabang, where they now work in restaurants, bars, tour companies, or go to school, to make a better life for themselves.
In the midst of such economic realities, the artistic nature of the strong Lao culture was very evident to me during my brief stay. From the exquisite textiles for which the Lao are famous, to the everyday traditional skirt most women and girls wear, to the elaborate, ceremonial garments of the diverse tribal communities, a living history is woven into the clothes connecting people to their ancestors. Classical dance, theater, puppetry, and music using original instruments are taught, and the stories told by these arts are passed down to a new generation of Lao artists. It was wonderful to make photographs in this creative environment.
I am grateful for everyone who spent time with me, and who with generosity, patience, and good humor, allowed me to photograph them."
-Monica Denevan, San Francisco 2016
from Songs of Lao, published by Nazraeli Press in 2016 in association with Friends Without A Border. Photographs and text by Adri Berger, Monica Denevan, Kenro Izu, Yumiko Izu, Michael Kenna, and John McDermott.